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Liquid Breathing

June 24, 2013

As you all know, our lungs are special organs used to transfer oxygen into our blood (and CO2 out) via that lovely pastime we like to call breathing. But did you know that it’s possible to breath with your lungs full of liquid instead of air? WELP – it’s true. There are special types of liquids called perfluorocarbons that are able to carry lots of soluble oxygen, and it would technically be possible for you to “breathe” them.

These chemicals are super freaky and they have lots of fluorine atoms in them. And carbon. Hence the name “per-fluoro-carbon,” I suppose. One example that has clinical relevance is called Perfluorodecaline, and it has a pretty chemical structure.

Mmmmm… get in my lungs

They aren’t widely used in humans yet, although they have been tested in pre-term infants with lung disease to help ease breathing. Basically, an injury can cause the surface tension at the air-fluid interface inside the lung to increase. This is due to disruption of the pulmonary surfactant  – which is a fancy term for the boogers that coat the inside of your breathing bags to keep them from collapsing. So, in the case of a lung injury, it might be beneficial to fill the lung with fluid to eliminate the increased surface tension at that air-fluid interface… because then it’s just a fluid-fluid interface lol. If we could work out the safety concerns, the only real problem for the liquid breather would be learning to overcome the reflexive gagging that would be initiated by filling their lungs in the first place.

There are proposed uses for liquid breathing if it ever becomes legitimate, such as medical support for lung injury, assistance for deep-sea diving, and protection of astronauts from crushing G-forces during space travel.

Also it would make these photoshoots slightly less creepy. Slightly.

As of right now the idea of humans breathing straight up liquid is still fictional (i.e. The Abyss). We’ve done it successfully in rodents and to some extent in people, but it requires complex machinery to regulate the flow of liquid and the level of solubilized gases. Maybe someday we’ll get it sorted and we can all swim with the fishes, but right now we’ll have to stick with our snorkels and SCUBA gear.


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